Smog Screen: Conservative Media Contradict Health Experts On Air Quality

››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

Conservative media claim stricter standards for ground-level ozone, the primary component of smog, are unreasonable and unnecessary. In fact, EPA is strengthening the standards because health experts, including the scientific panel that advised the Bush administration, have said that the standards set in 2008 are not sufficient to protect the public.

Conservative Media Claim Stricter Ozone Standards Are Unnecessary

WSJ Op-ed Claims It Is Not "Even Clear" A Stricter Standard Is "Necessary Or Desirable." In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, John Engler, the President of the Business Roundtable, asserted: "There's nothing reasonable or balanced about the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to tighten national air-quality standards for ozone emissions at this time." Calling for the EPA to delay rulemaking until 2013, Engler added: "There is no reason to rush through new standards before it is even clear they are necessary or desirable. [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/11]

IBD: Standard "Will Do Little, If Anything, To Improve Public Health." An Investor's Business Daily editorial claims stricter standards "will cost millions of jobs as companies spend increasingly large amounts of money to scrub increasingly small amounts of pollutants out of the air," adding, "All this money, however, will do little, if anything, to improve public health, despite what green groups or the American Lung Association might insist." [Investor's Business Daily, 7/13/11]

Wash. Times: EPA Wants "A Few Fewer Parts Per Million Of Ozone In Already Clean Air." From a Washington Times op-ed by Steve Milloy: "Ask any unemployed person whether he or she would rather have a job that pays well or a few fewer parts per million of ozone in already clean air." [Washington Times, 7/5/11]

EPA Is Revising Bush-Era Standard Deemed Too Lenient By Health Experts

EPA Is Setting The Standard At Levels Recommended By Bush Admin's Independent Science Advisors. The Washington Post reported:

In March 2008, the Bush administration set the ozone standard at 75 parts per billion, significantly higher than the 60 to 70 ppb recommended by the EPA's scientific advisory committee. In January 2010, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced that she would set the standard somewhere between 60 and 70 ppb and would probably finalize it that summer. But the EPA has delayed issuing the final rule as oil companies, manufacturers and utilities have pressed for more time. [Washington Post, 7/19/11]

Congressional Research Service: Bush EPA "Did Not Follow The Advice Of The Agency's Independent Science Advisors." From a January 4 Congressional Research Service report:

In making his decisions regarding the 2008 ozone and 2006 particulate standards, then-EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson did not follow the advice of the agency's independent science advisors, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). The Administrator is not required by statute to follow CASAC's recommendations; the act requires only that he set forth in the Federal Register notice in which he (or she) proposes a NAAQS any pertinent findings, recommendations, and comments made by CASAC and, if the proposal differs in an important respect from any of the recommendations, provide an explanation of the reasons for such differences. But the failure to follow CASAC recommendations almost inevitably raises the question of whether the Administrator's decision will be judged arbitrary and capricious in a judicial review.

In the recent revisions of both the ozone and PM standards, CASAC made detailed objections to the Administrator's final decisions. The committee's description of the process as having failed to meet statutory and procedural requirements could play an important role during judicial review. [Congressional Research Service, 1/4/11]

From a February 1, 2010, Congressional Research Service report on Ozone Air Quality Standards:

The major issues raised by the proposed standards concern whether the Administrator has made appropriate choices (i.e., whether her choices for the primary and secondary standards are backed by the scientific studies.) Unlike the choices made by Administrator Johnson in 2008, both the primary and secondary standards proposed by Administrator [Lisa] Jackson reflect the range of values and the statistical form recommended by the agency's independent science advisers, CASAC. [Congressional Research Service, 2/1/10]

Bush EPA's Science Advisors Said 2008 Standard Was Not "Sufficiently Protective Of Public Health." In April 2008 the scientific panel wrote a letter expressing their discontent with EPA for setting a looser standard than they recommended. According to the American Lung Association, such letters are a "rare" occurrence. From the letter (emphasis original):

[T]he members of the CASAC Ozone Review Panel do not endorse the new primary ozone standard as being sufficiently protective of public health. The CASAC -- as the Agency's statutorily-established science advisory committee for advising you on the national ambient air quality standards -- unanimously recommended decreasing the primary standard to within the range of 0.060-0.070 ppm. It is the Committee's consensus scientific opinion that your decision to set the primary ozone standard above this range fails to satisfy the explicit stipulations of the Clean Air Act that you ensure an adequate margin of safety for all individuals, including sensitive populations. [Letter to then-EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, 4/7/08]

Science Advisors' Unanimous Decision Came After Almost 4 Years Of Assessing 1,700 Scientific Studies. In a December 10, 2008, article, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that: "The science panel and EPA spent almost four years assessing the risk from ozone. They all agreed that the current standard of 80 parts per billion was too high." The article also stated: "The panel combed through 1,700 new scientific studies to see if they could determine how much ozone, mixed into the everyday cocktail of pollution, made people sick." [Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/10/08]

Bush White House Intervened To Loosen The Secondary Ozone Standard. From a March 14, 2008, Washington Post article:

The Environmental Protection Agency weakened one part of its new limits on smog-forming ozone after an unusual last-minute intervention by President Bush, according to documents released by the EPA.

EPA officials initially tried to set a lower seasonal limit on ozone to protect wildlife, parks and farmland, as required under the law. While their proposal was less restrictive than what the EPA's scientific advisers had proposed, Bush overruled EPA officials and on Tuesday ordered the agency to increase the limit, according to the documents.

[...]

The dispute involved one of two distinct parts of the EPA's ozone restrictions: the "public welfare" standard, which is designed to protect against long-term harm from high ozone levels. The other part is known as the "public health" standard, which sets a legal limit on how high ozone levels can be at any one time. The two standards were set at the same level Wednesday, but until Bush asked for a change, the EPA had planned to set the "public welfare" standard at a lower level.

The documents, which were released by the EPA late Wednesday night, provided insight into how White House officials helped shape the new air-quality rules that, by law, are supposed to be decided by the EPA administrator. [Washington Post, 3/14/08]

Bush Ozone Standard Faces Pending Legal Challenges. Politico reported on July 26:

The EPA announced Tuesday that it won't meet its July 29 deadline for setting a new ozone standard, amid intense pressure from industry and lawmakers to abandon the agency's reconsideration of the controversial George W. Bush administration rule.

An EPA spokesman said the agency plans to issue the final standard "shortly," but declined to offer further details on timing.

Depending on how long the delay lasts, Obama administration attorneys could soon have to decide whether to defend the 2008 Bush standard against pending legal challenges in federal court. The court agreed to put that litigation on hold while the EPA reconsidered the rule. [Politico Pro, 7/26/11, subscription required]

Health Experts Underline Need For Better Ozone Standard

NRC: Current Ozone Standard Probably Not Strict Enough To Prevent Premature Death. From the National Research Council:

Short-term exposure to current levels of ozone in many areas is likely to contribute to premature deaths, says a new National Research Council report, which adds that the evidence is strong enough that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should include ozone-related mortality in health-benefit analyses related to future ozone standards.

[...]

Based on a review of recent research, the committee found that deaths related to ozone exposure are more likely among individuals with pre-existing diseases and other factors that could increase their susceptibility. However, premature deaths are not limited to people who are already within a few days of dying.

In addition, the committee examined research based on large population groups to find how changes in ozone air concentration could affect mortality, specifically to determine the existence of a threshold -- a concentration of ozone below which exposure poses no risk of death. The committee concluded that if a threshold exists, it is probably at a concentration below the current public health standard. [National Research Council, 4/22/08]

Recent Scientific Assessment Finds "Robust Link Between Health Effects And Smog Levels" Below The 2008 Standard. Greenwire reported:

Recent studies suggest that smog-filled air kills more people and causes more breathing problems than previously thought, U.S. EPA scientists say in a new draft paper, but due to a procedural twist, the findings can't be taken into account as Administrator Lisa Jackson decides whether to set stricter limits than the George W. Bush administration chose in 2008.

The new research provides stronger evidence that short-term spikes in ground-level ozone can cause premature death, according to the 996-page scientific assessment, which was released late Friday. And on top of that, EPA scientists found evidence that long-term exposure could lead to more premature deaths -- a conclusion that was not reached when the agency last reviewed the state of smog science in 2006.

It is well-established that ozone can have health effects at the current limit of 84 parts per billion (ppb), which still has not been met in parts of the Northeast, much of Southern California and industrial cities such as Houston. According to the assessment, recent studies found a robust link between health effects and smog levels below either the current limit or the standard of 75 ppb that was selected by the last administration.

[...]

EPA is rethinking the George W. Bush administration's controversial 2008 decision to choose a standard of 75 ppb -- higher than the range of 60 to 70 ppb recommended by the agency's scientific advisers. The law requires a reconsideration proceeding to use the same information that was available the first time around, as EPA has said throughout the process. [Greenwire, 3/9/11]

Children's Health Committee: Studies Show "Significant Adverse Effects" In Children From Ozone Levels Lower Than 2008 Standard. A September 2007 letter from the chair of the EPA's Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee said, "Several studies also demonstrate significant adverse effects occurring in children below the range of values proposed by the agency." The letter further stated:

As pediatricians, public health and environmental professionals drawn from academia, government, industry and public interest organizations, we would like to again express our unanimous opinion that the 8 hour ozone standard should be set at the lowest level offered by the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), 0.060 ppm, in order to adequately protect the health of children with an appropriate margin of safety (CHPAC letter, March 23, 2007). This opinion is based on the existing scientific studies of children, which demonstrate serious adverse health effects of ozone exposure, including exacerbation of asthma with attendant increases in medication use, hospitalization, and missed school days, and impairment of normal lung development. It is also based on consideration of the evidence that disruption of lung development may result in permanent health consequences in children exposed to ozone. [Letter to then-EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, 9/4/07]

ALA: Studies Have Found Health Problems Associated Even With Lower Ozone Concentrations. From the American Lung Association:

Clinical studies of healthy adults show decreased lung function, increased respiratory symptoms and inflammation after 6.6-hour exposures to 80 ppb. Importantly, adverse lung function effects and symptoms are observed in some individuals at 60 ppb. Because people in clinical studies are typically healthy adults, standards must be set lower to provide the addition protection needed by infants, children, and people with moderate or severe asthma.

A dozen epidemiological studies have found that adverse health effects ranging from respiratory symptoms, lung function changes, emergency department visits for respiratory disease, and hospital admissions are associated with 8-hour ozone concentrations below 70 ppb. Numerous other community health studies report adverse respiratory effects in newborns, asthmatic children, outdoor workers and exercisers at concentrations below 60 ppb.

Breathing ozone can kill. Short-term increases in ozone were found to increase deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory causes in a large 14-year study in 95 U.S. cities. The relationship between mortality and ozone was evident even on days when pollution levels were below the EPA 8-hour standard of 75 ppb. [ALA, January 2010, in-text citations removed for clarity]

World Health Organization Recommends An Even Lower Standard Than Science Advisors. From a July 2008 article in Environmental Health Perspectives:

A great deal of the science on the health effects of ozone suggests that the primary (i.e., public health) standard of 80 ppb that had been in place since 1997 was far too high to adequately protect the health of many U.S. residents. The EPA's own scientists as well as its Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC)--the statutorily established body that advises the EPA administrator on the National Ambient Air Quality Standards--recommended going as low as 60 ppb to provide adequate protection in accordance with the mandates of the Clean Air Act. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends an even lower level of 51 ppb. [Environmental Health Perspectives, 2008]

Canada, Europe Have Stricter Ozone Limits. From a March 2008 Time article:

The byproduct of nitrogen oxides and other chemicals released into the air by vehicles and power plants, ozone is one of the most pernicious pollutants in the air -- and one of the hardest to get rid of. Even today, tens of millions of Americans live in areas that can't meet the current limit of 84 parts per billion, and suffer from the effects of ground-level ozone: an inflamed respiratory tract, worsened cardiovascular disease, asthma, even premature death. "It's an irritant, and it literally burns the inside of your lungs," says Dr. John Balbus, chief health scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, who notes that children will suffer the most. Balbus says that the EPA's own studies say that bringing down the ozone limit to 65 parts per billion -- the halfway point of the range suggested by science -- would prevent 2,330 deaths, 4,600 emergency room visits and 1,300,000 lost school days by the year 2020, compared to the current regulation. Nor is a limit of 65 parts per billion unachievable. The European Commission mandates ozone levels at no more than 61 parts per billion, and even Canada has lower limits than those the EPA will adapt. [Time, 3/13/08]

Major Public Health Groups Have Endorsed A Stricter Standard. According to the American Lung Association, the following medical and scientific groups "have endorsed an ozone standard in the range of 60-70 ppb":

The American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Thoracic Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology, the American College of Preventive Medicine, the American College of Chest Physicians, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, the National Association for the Medical Direction of Respiratory Care, and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. [ALA, January 2010]

Conservative Media Exaggerate Costs, Ignore Benefits Of Smog Rule

IBD Falsely Claims "The EPA Puts The Cost At Upward Of $90 Billion A Year." While Investor's Business Daily claims EPA estimated the cost at "upward of $90 billion a year," $90 billion was actually the upper limit of cost if the standard was set at the strictest level considered. From an Investor's Business Daily editorial:

And make no mistake: The price tag will be big. The EPA puts the cost at upward of $90 billion a year. But the Manufacturers Alliance says it'll be closer to $1 trillion, and will cost millions of jobs as companies spend increasingly large amounts of money to scrub increasingly small amounts of pollutants out of the air. [Investor's Business Daily, 7/13/11]

Business Roundtable's Engler: Stricter Standard Is "The Single Most Expensive Environmental Regulation In U.S. History." From a Wall Street Journal op-ed by John Engler, the President of the Business Roundtable:

President Obama won praise from businesses in January when he promised to bring "reason and balance" to a "21st-century regulatory system." Yet now, fewer than six months later, his administration is preparing to issue the single most expensive environmental regulation in U.S. history, a job-killing rule it is under no obligation to impose on the struggling economy.

[...]

The EPA estimates these new standards could cost business anywhere from $20 billion to $90 billion annually. [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/11]

CRS: Past Experience Indicates That "Costs Will Not Be As Great As They Are Projected To Be." From a Congressional Research Service report on EPA's proposed revisions to the ozone standards:

The analysis [EPA's Regulatory Impact Analysis] shows a wide range of estimates for benefits, from a low of $13 billion annually to a high of $100 billion annually in 2020. Estimates of the costs of implementing the standard also range widely, from $19 billion to $90 billion annually in 2020.

[...]

The RIA also states, "Of critical importance to understanding these estimates of future costs and benefits is that they are not intended to be forecasts of the actual costs and benefits of implementing revised standards." If past experience is any guide, this is likely to mean that costs will not be as great as they are projected to be. In the agency's words, "Technological advances over time will tend to increase the economic feasibility of reducing emissions, and will tend to reduce the costs of reducing emissions." Benefits, meanwhile, will remain difficult to quantify, in part because of the difficulty of quantifying and valuing lives lost prematurely and other adverse health effects due to exposure to pollution. [Congressional Research Service, 2/1/10, in-text citations removed for clarity]

EPA Estimates Benefits Of Stricter Standard At $13 Billion To $100 Billion Per Year. From the Fact Sheet on the Regulatory Impact Analysis of the proposed ozone standards:

The value of mortality benefits and other health improvements of reducing ozone to 0.070 ppm would range from an estimated $13 billion to $37 billion per year in 2020. For a standard of 0.060 ppm, the value of benefits would range from $35 billion to $100 billion. The benefits estimates include the value of an estimated reduction in the following adverse health effects in 2020:

[EPA, 1/7/10]

Clean Air Act's Benefits Have Dwarfed Its Costs. From an EPA review of the results of the Clean Air Act since 1990:

The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments programs are projected to result in a net improvement in U.S. economic growth and the economic welfare of American households.

Our central benefits estimate exceeds costs by a factor of more than 30 to one, and the high benefits estimate exceeds costs by 90 times. Even the low benefits estimate exceeds costs by about three to one.

This net improvement in economic welfare is projected to occur because cleaner air leads to better health and productivity for American workers as well as savings on medical expenses for air pollution-related health problems. The beneficial economic effects of these two improvements alone are projected to more than offset the expenditures for pollution control. [Environmental Protection Agency, April 2011]

ALA: Americans Overwhelmingly Favor "Stricter Limits On Smog." An American Lung Association poll conducted in June found 75 percent of likely voters favor stricter smog standards. [American Lung Association, June 4-12 2011]

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